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07 Aug 2020

Hydrotherapy proven to be both preventative and therapeutic health treatment
BY Megan Whitby

Immersion a type of hydrotherapy involving using hot and cold water on the skin, affecting the underlying tissue and entire physical system

Immersion a type of hydrotherapy involving using hot and cold water on the skin, affecting the underlying tissue and entire physical system
photo: Shutterstock: NDAB Creativity

Spa and wellness businesses have a long history of using hydrotherapy to deliver curative benefits to customers. Now a research review has shown why being immersed in water has so many unexpected health benefits.

The paper, authored by South Korean academics Jiyeon An, Insook Lee and Yunjeong Yi, assessed 13 key pieces of research. Findings were published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Called The thermal effects of water immersion on health outcomes: an integrative review, the paper collates the existing studies, exploring the health effects of immersion hydrotherapy. Nine studies used warm water, one used both warm and cold water and the remaining three used cold water.

Hydrotherapy involves using water for pain relief and treatment of existing conditions. Immersion is just one method and involves using hot and cold water on the skin, affecting the underlying tissue and entire physical system.

Findings of the study

The study found that warm water immersion can:

  • Improve cardiovascular function, which according to the authors, means this has clinical significance as an alternative to exercise, and more importantly, as a preventative health treatment

  • Increases blood flow to major organs including the brain, heart and lungs

  • Contribute to improved short-term brain function

  • Improve blood flow rate and increased oxy-haemoglobin levels

  • Improve tissue oxygenation and strengthen muscles.


The study found that cold water immersion can:

  • Provide an anaesthetic effect

  • Reduces stress and force placed on the body and improves the ability to exercise or move

  • Support the musculoskeletal function of healthy people

  • Act as a complementary rehabilitation treatment for patients with existing pain-related diseases.


The global pandemic has kickstarted a renewed interest in health, leading the spa and wellness industry to anticipate a surge in demand for treatments which also act as preventative therapies.

It seems hydrotherapy can answer this demand – acting as a preventative treatment for healthy people and a complementary therapy for those with existing conditions, ultimately helping spas market their services not simply for relaxation, but also for health and wellbeing.

European Parliament
The European Parliament is in the process of assessing a tourism and transport resolution, called European Parliament resolution on transport and tourism in 2020 and beyond, which includes a sub-section highlighting the need to support European resorts in attracting spa and wellness tourists.

The resolution calls on the Commission to fund more science-based research to enable the sector to develop medical tourism business with the aim of reducing healthcare costs through preventative measures, such as hydrotherapy and balneotherapy.

This reinforces a view held widely in the wellness industry – that treatments such as hydrotherapy, have the potential to improve health globally and should be taken seriously as preventative health modalities.

About the study
The production of The thermal effects of water immersion on health outcomes: an integrative review involved a literature search of online medical papers relating to wet water immersion in digital medical journals – the authors found 6,705 papers which were narrowed down to 13, based on selection criteria.

In the 13 papers, immersion heights varied relative to parts of the body, with four studies using immersion to the lower sternum, one to the navel, and eight where only a part of the body was immersed, such as the feet.

Immersion temperatures and methods differed, techniques used included the use of a bathtub, bucket, tank, acrylic container, immersion chamber, and bath machine.

The authors highlighted that because immersion techniques varied across the 13 studies, the health benefits could not all be clearly explained. However, they expect the findings to be beneficial for providing research guidelines for studies on the application of water immersion.



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